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Charging for Discovery – The Problem With Free Discovery Calls

The discovery process is often tricky to execute, as you’re trying to uncover your client’s primary issues, establish expectations and outcomes, and identify the main goals before you bring them on board. 

In essence, discovery is when you leverage your own experience and expertise to ask a bunch of questions to clients to figure out their pain points and primary objectives. 

But should you charge for this? Paid discovery is becoming more and more popular, with many agencies now charging for the discovery process before onboarding a client. 

At Atarim, we believe that paid discovery makes a great deal of sense. Free discovery calls, while historically popular, just don’t deliver as much value.

But, before we talk about charging for discovery, let’s first outline the issues with free discovery calls.

The Problems With Free Discovery Calls

Here are just some of the many issues with free discovery calls. 

It’s Just Not Perceived as Valuable

If you’ve offered something for free to your clients in the past, you probably know what we’re talking about. When something’s valued at $0, people simply take it for granted. 

It’s hard for clients to attach any sort of value to the discovery process, especially when they perceive it as just a series of “meetings”. In their minds, it’s just another conversation. 

There are going to be instances where clients may cancel or postpone the discovery meetings, almost to the point where you might feel they’re doing you a favor by responding to your questions. 

It’s Difficult to Remain Motivated and Invest Enough Time

When you’re doing something for free, it’s obviously not possible to keep yourself motivated all the way. There are going to be times when you might be uninspired to run discovery properly, and just run it pro forma. 

But, if you’re getting paid to do discovery, you’ll obviously go the extra mile and put your heart into it, which is ultimately what’ll help you determine whether you and the client are a good fit for each other. 

Doesn’t Help in Screening Bad Clients

How many times have you prepared a proposal and run discovery for a prospective client, only to find that they just weren’t serious from the get-go?

It’s obviously disappointing when you figure this out after having poured in several hours in the discovery phase. If you’re charging clients for discovery, you’ll know just how serious they are. 

It helps you identify clients who have a viable budget, who meet your requirements and those who would be a good fit for your company to work with. 

Reduced Profitability

This one’s fairly obvious; if you’re offering discovery for free, it’s clearly going to affect your company’s profits. 

Increased Sales Risk

When you’re doing discovery for free, you’re essentially offering a sales pitch to your clients, where you’re asking them to sign on based on the initial discovery process.

Needless to say, this carries an elevated risk. But, when you start charging for the discovery process, you’re creating a transactional relationship, where a prospective client pays you for your experience and expertise. 

By paying a relatively small amount upfront, clients can get a better understanding of whether working with you would be a good fit in the long run or not. In the same way, it’ll give you a better idea too. 

How to Charge for Discovery

Before you can start charging for discovery, you need to provide some sort of justification. Ideally, when you’re pricing the project for discovery, you’ll want to charge anywhere between 5-10% of the total value of the project.

So, if a project is worth $10,000, you can charge between $500-$1,000 for the discovery phase. Obviously, if discovery takes less time, you can revise your quote. 

What if the Project is Too Small?

Some projects just aren’t big enough for you to charge for discovery in the first place. Ideally, you can charge for discovery if the project costs upwards of $5,000. 

For a smaller project, you won’t have to spend a lot of time during discovery, making it difficult for you to sell paid discovery in the first place. 

Remember, you should never start the discovery process unless you have clients sign off on it. Prepare a discovery document beforehand and make sure your client confirms it before you start off on the project so that both you and the client can come back to it later on. 

Identifying the Deliverables

When you charge for discovery, your client’s going to expect something in return. It’s up to you to educate the client and to explain to them exactly what they’re going to get at the end of the discovery phase. 

Broadly speaking, here are the documents you should offer at the end of a discovery session:

A comprehensive brief about the company’s market position

This is an introductory document that outlines your understanding of the company itself. The company brief is a great way to show the client that you understand their major pain points and can help them. 

A detailed website analysis

Perhaps the most important document that you’ll send is website analysis. Think of it as a detailed teardown of the client’s website, and your analysis of its features. 

You can add virtually anything you want here, as long as you don’t allocate too many resources in the process. It’s an excellent way to outline your skills, and to give the client a brief idea of what to expect. 

This would include:

  • The sitemap (content, images, functionalities for each page, design inspiration)
  • General functionalities like integrations for Google Analytics and WordPress plugins
  • A list of third-party licenses that’ll be required to complete the project
  • Any future plugins or addons that will be required for the project

A marketing strategy

If you really want to go all-out with the discovery plan, you can include a marketing strategy in there too. The marketing plan or strategy is a simple document that includes a list of marketing opportunities that you’ve identified for clients. 

A comprehensive quote

Finally, you’ll also want to include a detailed quote that covers the costs for design, development, and deployment. Make sure to break down the costs in different phases so that clients have a clear idea of what they’re paying for. 

Optimize Your Paid Discovery Process

Since you’re charging clients for delivery, it’s important that you focus on optimizing the paid discovery process. There are several things that you can do to make sure that your discovery process offers value to your clients. 

Divide it into Phases

The best thing to do is to divide your discovery process into different phases. It’s always tempting to let a client know that you’re starting discovery immediately. 

That’s not always a good idea. Instead, you should hold off, and tell them that you’re going to gather information first. This extra bit of research may prove to be invaluable in the long run, and it also leaves an impression on the client that your services are in high demand.

Prepare a Questionnaire

A questionnaire is a great way to get all the information you need from a client. If you need information about the client’s business to gain a better understanding, using that questionnaire is a great idea.

You can send it to the clients and wait for them to respond to you. The questionnaire needs to include key questions, such as the company’s unique selling proposition or the major issues they’re facing. 

It’s also important to develop an understanding of the client’s core buyer persona. Again, you can prepare a questionnaire that asks all the right questions about that. 

Prepare a Discovery Report or Presentation

At the end of the discovery phase, you may want to consider presenting a detailed report or presentation to the client. Think of it as a round-up of everything that you’ve gathered. 

You could share it with them over a Google Meet or a Zoom call, and it should ideally include the following:

  • Information round-up
  • Recommendations for different marketing strategies
  • An understanding of their buyer persona
  • A summary outlining the scope of the project
  • Comprehensive quote for the work
  • A brief section for Q&A for all attendees

Once you’re done, you can then discuss the next steps with the client. If there’s an issue with the budget for the project, now’s the time to discuss it. Make sure you get approvals for each stage of the project before you proceed further. 

The Benefits of Charging for Discovery

There are several major benefits that you get when you start charging for discovery, as discussed below:

Bring Down Your Sales Overhead Expenditure

When you start charging for discovery, you’ll reduce the number of hours that you work for free each month. In this way, your sales overhead allocation is going to reduce immediately. 

Looking at the numbers alone, it’s a wise business decision and will result in better profitability in the long run. As you start closing more sales, your ROI will rise, while your cost of consumer acquisition is going to reduce. 

Invest in the Discovery Phase

When you’re getting paid for discovery, you’ll inevitably prepare documents that are more detailed. You’ll be more willing to invest time and money into the discovery phase, all of which will contribute to a better standard of service. 

Finding the Right Client Fit

This one’s quite evident when a client pays for the discovery, you know that they are interested in acquiring your services. Finding the right client fit becomes easier this way, especially since both parties will align with the same objectives. 

It’s the best way to screen out bad clients and find those who really value your time and your services. Here’s a simple example: if a client has a fairly small budget, they won’t be willing to go with discovery anyway, and you’ll know that it’s not worth pursuing their business in the long run. 

Paid Discovery Sets the Tone for the Project

Before you start investing considerable time and resources into any project, it’s important that you run discovery. Smaller agencies may scoff at this, or not take it seriously, but it could prove to be a major differentiating factor. 

On this note, you may want to take a look at this fantastic article by Eliza Pitri: Project Learning: Exploration, Discussion, and Discovery

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